Update: When I wrote this review a few days ago, I completely forgot to point out one of the most important features of this plane, which is that KLM has included individual air vents. Given that the cabin temperature was around 1000 degrees, the vents made a huge difference, and every plane that doesn’t have them is a piece of crap. Okay now on to the review... I’ve been lusting after KLM business class for almost as long as I’ve been into churning. I realize it’s mostly considered a middle-of-the-pack product, but I think my affinity for the Netherlands plus my obsession with KLM’s visual design has given it special importance in my mind. A couple weeks ago, I finally got to fly it, and to put it bluntly, it didn’t live up to my expectations. However, in fairness to KLM, it would have needed to be a pretty damn good flight, given how (unrealistically) high my expectations were.
Backing up, I originally booked the flight almost a year ago using Flying Blue miles transferred from Citi, Chase, and Amex. Since availability on the SFO-AMS route isn’t great, I pulled the trigger on a date that was a few weeks earlier than what we had originally planned, and it ended up biting me in the ass in the form of some really terrible winter weather. A few months after I booked, KLM canceled the flight (I’m not sure why — SFO-AMS is a daily frequency for them, so it’s unclear why they canceled the flight on one specific day around nine months in advance). They rebooked us on the flight a day earlier and even kept our seat assignments, despite there being no saver availability on the new date. I suppose I could have tried to get them to cover our hotel for the extra night or something, but I figured that they’d just tell me I could cancel the flight for free if I didn’t like it. Still, I probably should have asked.
Finally, the day arrived, and we headed to the airport a little early in case there were any delays at security (or on the Bay Bridge, which there were). Because we had extra time, we got to hang out in the underwhelming Air France lounge in the SFO international terminal. The lounge isn’t that bad — it’s actually pretty nice for a Priority Pass lounge, but if I had spent several thousand dollars on a business class flight, I would have wanted something a little nicer. The main benefit of the lounge is the excellent tarmac views of the international terminal A gates. The lounge itself is bright and has pretty decent food and alcohol, but the seating is uncomfortable and it gets crowded. When we were there, most of the clientele was waiting for a China Eastern flight, although with an Air France A380 also getting ready to leave, most of the seats were taken.
I got up to wander around the terminal a little, and I found a pretty cool display of vintage travel posters in the hallway one level up from the lounge (which is where the JAL and Cathay Pacific lounges are located). I know most people wouldn’t go out of their way to find these posters, but I have a huge soft spot for vintage travel ads, so I was happy to stumble upon them.
On the 787, KLM has installed reverse herringbone seats that look like a slightly narrower version of the new business class on Air France’s 777s. It’s a perfectly fine product, but I didn’t find it all that spacious. One thing about it that annoyed me is that there is a leg cubby instead of the normal foot cubby, meaning the seat itself doesn’t have a leg rest that raises up when you recline. Instead, the seat slides forward to meet the leg cubby, which is much less comfortable when the seat is in relaxation mode. For a nighttime flight where you’re going straight to sleep, that may be fine, but this flight was from 2:00PM to 12:30AM pacific time, so I didn’t plan to spend much of it sleeping.
Things I did appreciate: the storage compartment is very useful, especially since this seat design doesn’t have much storage space otherwise. When I flew a very similar seat on Delta’s A330, the lack of storage space was a major annoyance, so it’s good that KLM has addressed this. Also, the seat is comfortable to sit on, so I wasn’t wishing for more padding or anything. And while I wasn’t a fan of the leg cubby in general, there’s plenty of foot room. Here are some pictures of the cabin, including the “sunset” and “sunrise” mood lighting modes that do jack shit to alleviate jet lag, as well as a pretty sweet selfie in the mirror of the storage compartment...
I should admit that I really didn’t feel very well on the flight, and I think that colored my impression of it. For instance, I felt like the seat was pretty narrow for sleeping, but Justine, who is usually more critical than I am, thought it was fine. Neither of us liked the food very much, though. As usual, I had the vegan meal, and as usual, it totally sucked. So far United and SWISS are the two airlines who have done vegan meals best, and I was hoping for another winner from KLM. Unfortunately, they started off with cold roasted vegetables (who the fuck eats cold roasted vegetables???), and then they transitioned into warm roasted vegetables. The main course wasn’t actually that bad, but my stomach was already slightly turned from the disgusting appetizer. The mini apple tart for dessert was quite good, though (although it wasn’t remotely vegan — sorry PETA).
Things really went off the rails with breakfast, which was mostly steamed vegetables plus a rock hard (non-vegan) croissant, some dry-ass crudité, and a decent fruit plate. I ate most of the carrots, but the ones toward the bottom were swimming in mushroom and asparagus juice and made me want to barf. As you may have gathered by now, I’m not a strict vegan, so I’m wondering if I should just roll the dice with one of the normal meals in the future and eat around the meat and cheese. I feel like there are enough vegan/vegetarian people out there that airlines could put a little more effort into their veg meals (like SWISS does), or just serve some goddamn Indian food, which is nearly impossible to screw up (like United does).
The presentation is pretty cool, though, with little clogs for the salt and pepper shakers, delftware plates, and flatware designed by the master of whimsy himself, Marcel Wanders. I also think it’s neat that they print up a new menu for each flight, even though I can’t imagine it changes that much from day to day.
The entertainment on the flight was pretty good — I watched a couple movies but mostly just listened to music while watching the airshow. The screen looks good, and you can also watch something separately on the handheld controller, which I would have done if my controller wasn’t broken. In fact, for a fairly new plane (14 months old), the “hard product” was awfully janky. The screen didn’t click back into the dock very cleanly, and mine kept popping out while we were taxiing. The armrest can be lowered in order to widen the sleeping surface, but it caught on the way down and needed to be forced/pounded into place. A piece of the seat kept popping off as well, and the blue panel around the shell was detaching from Justine’s seat.
KLM has done a predictably great job with the design, and the cabin and seat finishes are undeniably smart-looking. I’m just surprised how rough around the edges it is after only a year in service — I can’t imagine how threadbare it’s going to look in a couple more years.
Finally, I should mention the service, which was good. It’s very Dutch, which is to say that the staff are polite and businesslike but not subservient — which I’m actually much more comfortable with. I like to think I’m not very demanding, but I did notice that the flight attendant working my aisle came back a few times to refill my water once she realized that I drink constantly. I also thought it was a nice touch for the purser to come through the cabin and greet each passenger individually, especially since the cabin was completely full.
Overall, it got me across the ocean in a bed, and that’s the main thing I require from long haul business class. The novelty of laying down flat and having that much space on a plane still hasn’t worn off for me, and as long as the product I’m flying provides me with a flat surface, it’s going to get a B+ or better. B+ is probably where I’d leave KLM, though. The positives (nice service, excellent design and cabin finishes, all-aisle access) were brought down by the disgusting food, janky hardware, and somewhat below-average comfort.
Where would I rank it? Probably on par with Delta’s A330, actually. Some things, like the storage space, were much better, although I think the Delta seat was actually more comfortable. It makes sense, since they’re both SkyTeam partners, I guess. I do want to try this product on Air France, though, since the extra width of the 777 would probably address some of my concerns about the lack of spaciousness for sleeping.
Oh, and I got two KLM houses, which was exciting given how much I fetishize little trinkets like that. (And speaking of trinkets, Justine loved the design of her amenity kit, so that was a bonus as well.)
I could go into more detail about the individual contents of the amenity kit, the wine list, blah blah blah... but I think this review is long enough already, and you probably get the point. KLM is fine, don’t go out of your way to avoid it, but probably don’t build it up as much in your head as I did, or you’ll be disappointed.